The Great Star Trek Rewatch: The Return of the Archons

When the Enterprise sends a landing party to planet Beta III to investigate the loss of the starship Archon a hundred years previously, they run into a very strange civilisation indeed. Apart from brief ‘festivals’ of violence and abandon, everyone leads a tranquil and peaceful life, but one devoid of any true thought and inspiration. Still determined to discover the fate of the Archon, Kirk refuses to leave well enough alone, and soon begins poking into the details of this strange society.

Yes, here it is, the start of another Star Trek trope – “Kirk destroys the controller of a peaceful and idyllic civilisation, leaving the people to fend for themselves”. In this case, everyone on the planet is under the control of Landru, a computer programmed by a great leader of the past to impose peace on an advanced yet warring society. Now, everyone is superficially happy, but society itself has stagnated – they still use some of the technology their ancestors created, but have no idea how it works or how to repair it. Still, is Kirk right to go around the galaxy imposing American values on other cultures? In some sense, he is bringing liberty and freedom to all, but in others, he’s destroying an entire way of life, and leaving behind a planet of people who are unable to care for themselves without their benevolent overseer. Yes, he leaves some Starfleet officers behind to help the people through the transition, but was it morally the correct thing to do? Was Kirk freeing those people from a slavery they didn’t choose for themselves, or callously destroying their civilisation because it didn’t fit his ideas of how a society should be run? Answers on a virtual postcard, please.

Building a better Enterprise

  • It’s possible for an object to maintain a stable orbit without a power source – just take our Moon for a simple example. Yet in the last episode, the Enterprise’s orbit started to decay after it was powered down, so clearly for whatever reason it was decided to put her in an unstable orbit to start off with. In this episode, the Enterprise’s orbit is once again threatened, although this time by powerful ‘heat waves’ from the computer on Beta III. We got away with it for a few weeks, but it looks like we’re back to the regime where a story can’t be complete unless the Enterprise is in jeopardy.
  • After Kirk and the landing party rescued O’Neil, they had to keep him sedated as he had been ‘absorbed’ into the brainwashed masses. Why didn’t they beam him back up to the ship so they didn’t have to deal with lugging him around?

Points of interest

  • This episode marks the first mention of the Prime Directive of non-interference in developing cultures (later defined as pre-warp cultures). Kirk claims it doesn’t apply in this case as this culture had once developed a high level of technology, but had since abandoned it and stagnated in a less developed state.

Summary – The Return of the Archons: Decent enough, but not outstanding. Don’t ever let Kirk near your supercomputer.

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